February 12, 2014
NC Hospital Says Patients Were Exposed To Deadly, Incurable Disease
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
As many as 18 patients who underwent neurosurgery at a North Carolina Hospital are being notified of a potentially incurable disease they may have been exposed to during their treatment. Staff at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC said that the patients could potentially have contracted Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a serious and incurable neurological disorder."Today we are reaching out to 18 neurosurgery patients who were exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease over the last three weeks at Forsyth Medical Center," Jeff Lindsay, president of the medical facility, said in a statement to CNN affiliate WGHP.
"On behalf of the entire team at Novant Health, I apologize to the patients and their families for having caused this anxiety," Lindsay said during a news conference.
This is not only a serious disease but also a rare one, with an average of only one person in a million worldwide contracting the disease. While CJD symptoms are often similar to those of mad cow disease, classic CJD is in no way related to the human form of mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE).
"It is important to note that there are multiple variations of CJD and this case is not related to mad cow disease," Novant Health said in a statement, cited by CNN.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) says that CJD is known to cause memory loss, blindness, involuntary movement and coma and kills 90 percent of patients who get the disease within a year.
The incubation period for CJD can last years, but once symptoms do occur, most patients die within four months. However, the odds of contracting the disease through surgical exposure is very remote, the hospital said in a statement.
The hospital confirmed that an operation was performed on Jan. 18 of a patient with CJD symptoms who later tested positive for the illness. Even though all surgical tools were sterilized according to standard hospital procedures, the hospital maintained that enhanced sterilization should have occurred due to the confirmed CJD.
The original patient "had neurological symptoms that could have been attributed to CJD or another brain disease," Novant Health said. "There were reasons to suspect that this patient might have had CJD. As such, the extra precautions should have been taken, but were not."
Still, the hospital believes that the probability of contracting the disease from the surgical equipment is very low.
And to corroborate that statement, the CDC reported that no cases of CJD have been linked to the use of contaminated surgical equipment since 1976.
One patient, Amanda Morin, who recently had back surgery at Forsyth, told Fox News affiliate Fox8.com that she was one of the 18 patients contacted by hospital staff.
“I have a two year old to live for and mommy might not be here,” Morin told Fox8.com. “I am angry; very, very angry something so little could cost me my life. I want grandkids. I want to be there for them.”
NC Department of Health and Human Services said it was monitoring the situation in a statement on Monday, according to Fox8.com.
“DHHS officials are aware of the incident at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center and have been in contact with the facility. Our primary concern is the health, safety and welfare of patients, and we will continue to closely monitor the situation” said Kevin Howell, DHHS spokesperson.
About 200 cases of CJD are recorded annually in the US, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Last September, 13 patients received similar warnings from two hospitals in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, after patients who had undergone neurosurgery were later suspected of having CJD. The surgical equipment in both hospitals had been reused on the subsequent patients until suspicion of the disease surfaced.